Happy Scribe
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If you ask Sasha Siddartha, there are three core barriers that have prevented consumers from living a healthier lifestyle. Price, geography and information. Now, as the co-founder and CEO of Thrive Market, Sasha is working to eliminate those barriers in order to provide consumers with healthier options, all at the click of a mouse. On this episode of Visionaries, Sasha discusses the role that thrive marketplace in assisting consumers on their personal health journey and why the grocery industry is making big strides in e-commerce.

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Enjoy this episode. It visionaries is created by the team at Mission Dog and brought to you by the Salesforce Customer 360 platform, the number one cloud platform for digital transformation of every experience, build connected experience, empower every employee, and deliver continuous innovation with the customer at the center of everything you do. Learn more at Salesforce.com platform. This podcast is created by the team at Mission Dog. Welcome to another episode of Its Revisionaries, I mean, Faizan, host of IT Visionaries, and today we have special guest.

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Sasha, what's going on in.

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Nice to meet you and thanks for having me on board. Yeah.

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Great to have you today. We are all about healthy living, made easy here on visionaries and coincidentally, so is the right market. So I'm super excited to talk about everything, thrive about what you have under the hood from a technology perspective and get into your background. So let's get into it. How did you get started in technology in the first place?

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It's interesting. I mean, I got to it what feels like a little late in the game compared to what I see these days when I was in middle school and high school was a big it's a big gamer. So I always I was love building, building my own systems and hardware, put a lot of computer games in both console in DC. And at some point along the way, my uncle, who's a software engineer for his whole career, kind of needled me a little bit and said, why don't you get up one of these days and actually build one of these instead of just being just being a consumer, just consuming the content?

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And then I spent some time thinking about that. And, you know, this was in the in the mid to late 90s. And, you know, obviously the first dotcom wave wasn't an all time high. And there are all these amazing stories about the great things that entrepreneurs and technology businesses are doing in the market. So that got me really excited. So when it came time to to go to college, started and started in ninety nine, so ended up coming out to the West Coast and attended Stanford.

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And my goal coming into college was to learn how to be an entrepreneur in the technology space. And you know, Stanford didn't have a didn't have a business degree. There were some schools that had programs for worship. But at Stanford the options were were economics and a variety of technical disciplines, including computer science. So I started studying both of those at the same time, hoping that I'd sort of get the get the business side down and get the technical side down and ended up really falling in love with the technical side of completing both degrees, but found that I I love the creative aspect of software engineering and the ability to get out there and build things that added real value and utility enjoyed a joy to people's lives.

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You know, coming out of college, obviously, I graduated in oh three. So between between when I went in and died, what I care about the ecosystem would change pretty dramatically after the first first dotcom bust and two thousand. So it was a really, really tough time for anyone who wanted to even think about starting a business in the technology space at the time. And I was 20 years old and kind of brand new to the US and and definitely much more risk averse than I am today.

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So I was looking for a training ground where I could start all my skills and develop my career a in a relatively disciplined way. So, you know, coincidentally at the time is really just a big technology companies that are hiring at scale. So I found my way or role in software engineering at Microsoft, and that's sort of my path from there on out. For the next several years, I ended up being a developer and an engineering manager across a variety of teams.

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They're just learn an incredible amount when it came to best practices and building, building technology and real scale and also running, running engineering teams, technology teams. So that's really that's really how things got started. Obviously, we're at a startup, but never quite left me. So I ended up coming down to L.A. in 2011. And finally, my first business with a former a former Microsoft colleague who was was locally working as a venture capitalist at the time and was leaving us for our go go found this business.

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So that brought me to entrepreneurship. And then I ran that business for three, three and a half years, went through, went through some M&A and then ended up business partners at Thrive Market. And the rest is history. Yeah. So flash forward to today.

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Tell us a little bit about what it means to be CTO of Throve Market.

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Yeah. So we're we're a mid-sized grocery ecommerce company. Some folks made no mention of the businesses do is to make healthy living easy and accessible for everyone. We really want to be the leading online brand and be healthy and sustainable products space. So within that, my role as CTO is it's really it's twofold. One is taking our business strategy and connecting it with a cohesive technology digital product strategy. What are the consumer facing experiences that we need to achieve the necessary business outcomes and a anything from a three month to a three year timeframe and vice versa?

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How can we leverage technology and what's going on in the digital shopping space to inform our business strategy and evolve it in a positive direction? So that's probably where I spend about seventy five percent of my time. A product manager, user experience or a software engineer or the folks building out those those consumer facing pieces, the other half of my role is how do we empower the company itself through use of software and systems? And that goes both for the technology organism to making sure that everything from internal software architecture to language choice to dev ops and software automation are in place, but also for the non tech departments within the business, ensuring that we have a cohesive technology strategy where we've got the right productivity tools, the right security posture, the right access and availability of data and analytics for everything from a customer service agent to a head of marketing tool to make the best, the best decisions for the business, but also to be able to just have a great workday and operate smoothly and efficiently.

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So it's it's balancing those two. And I have boards that support internal enterprise applications and analytics that support consumer facing product.

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Yeah, it's so funny. I mean, not to get on the soapbox here, but it just feels like there's so many people like you in startups now and in the role of CTO that has kind of like your CIO hat or traditional CIO hat or it's like internal I.T. or employee experience type stuff. And then you have like your product centric hat. And that role might be a CTO, IPCA might be whatever CTO and we talk to folks all the time that have that same sort of thing where it's just the role of the technology leader in a company that is not inherently a technology company and yet has a massive digital technology footprint.

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It's just it's such a dynamic spot right now.

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I couldn't agree more. I mean, even even businesses that don't have a significant technology component when it comes to consumer facing experience still need to leverage software to remain relevant and competitive in today's ecosystem. Whether it's at the CIO, part of the role is it's almost universal across across all organizations. The other piece of this is that in a startup environment, think sort of to take the cliché, everyone wears lots and lots of hats ultimately, but it's a very small organization.

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There's usually some person who takes on accountability to figuring out all the tech requirements on board. The software starts to figure out a systems and process and then it kind of builds organically from there. So the interesting thing that I remember from the very early days of now two companies is that, you know, just by virtue of being in the role I was exposed to e-commerce enablement. Technology enablement is such a wide variety of functions that it wasn't just the software development business, you know, some of the digital marketing, it was a lot of our operations and fulfillment infrastructure just by virtue of having a small team and everyone needing to collaborate and figure it out.

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Those are areas that that I had the opportunity to dive into quite deeply at the very early phases, you know, thrive in particular. Obviously, the really nice thing is the ability to scale really fast as a business and as an organization. And I've had the ability to specialize over time and we've been able to bring in this amazing domain expertise, run some of those other areas. But it's very common to point to see the intersection of use of technology and a broad range of applications across every function the business these days, because just everything runs on software now.

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Yeah, and I want to get into both sides of that piece of thrive, both internal and product side. But before we get into that, I'm curious, what's the size and the scope of what you're doing it thrive right now? How many folks and I can't share exact specifics, but are are using the platform and what are the types of things that they're looking for from a day to day basis from the market?

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Yeah. So we're in the you know, we're in the high, high, hundreds of thousands approaching a million members right now. At its core, they're looking for two things for us. One, there's a there's a strict utility play in terms of us making sure they can get their healthy groceries quickly, easily, in a timely manner, at great value. The other more more interesting part is we feel very strongly that our consumers see us as a trusted partner in their journey to healthy living.

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And that comes down to everything from curation of our site so that they can shop by over hundred diets and values based on their their dietary goals, their lifestyle preferences, their their social values. It comes down to offering something like carbon neutral shipping so that they can feel really good about the purchases they're making without having a negative impact on the environment. It's about really layering in value, add content and educational information so that we can inspire them around products and categories that may not be familiar with that really facilitated experience discovery.

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So those are areas that are strategically important to us that we're investing deeply in, which we feel are essentially the direction in which a lot of online shopping is going, but certainly in the grocery category.

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One hundred percent, I mean, the market is clearly trending this way, I think for a long time we just were really informed enough as consumers. We didn't really know what was out there. Now we do know it's out there. And there's all sorts of really cool snack makers, food makers, drink makers, figuring out ways to be more sustainable, to tailor to more diets, to do all that sort of stuff. And then also a place like the market that actually has a mission that is doing work yourselves.

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Can you speak to that? Yeah, absolutely.

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So so, again, the mission is the mission has fundamentally been around access. We believe that our role is to knock down all the barriers that exist in a consumer's way on their journey to live a healthier, more and more sustainable life. And there's this three, three core pillars that we feel have historically prevented people making that journey. And it boils down to price, geography and information. So hitting on price, historically, natural organic products have sold at a premium compared to conventional or processed equivalents, which which is interesting if you sort of zoom out of it, makes no sense to let us less ingredients that involves less manipulation of the product is actually more expensive to bring to market.

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But so it goes. And if you look at a kind of a traditional health food grocer like Whole Foods, it's usually only accessible to the top top three to five percent of the population from that from an income perspective. So our role when it comes to price is really bringing the healthier, organic, less processed at the gold version of the product to market at a price point that is comparable to a conventional equivalent and at a significant price advantage to full retail.

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So that's that's step one. Step two is geography. So depending on where you are, there may be amazing access to health food products, or they may not if you're living in San Francisco or we're fortunate enough to be the west side of L.A. here, where healthy living and natural products are so ingrained into the day to day accents is not geographic access is not a real problem. However, if we look at our customer base, about half of them are in the Midwest and the Southeast, which are traditionally regarded as food deserts.

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You look across the country and you've got tens of millions of Americans who live in food deserts where they have to commute more than 10 miles to get to any kind of healthy grocery store. Our model is all about being able to hit every house on the US. We ship through national and regional carriers so that even if you don't have local option, that especially if you don't have local options, we have the ability to provide our consumers direct access to this catalog of product in a convenient way and the last the last barriers information.

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So even if you could afford the product, even if you are situated geographically in a way that it's easy for you to get to a store, get the get the product in your hands, not everyone has either the educational foundation or kind of the cultural the cultural foundation to make make those healthy choices in an intuitive way. So our role there is to be a trusted guide and introduce people to these categories of products and help them understand the advantages of natural organic in a way that is easy to understand.

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Friendly, not preachy. And that's that's been a big commitment from the beginning, is to pair the utilitarian commerce with as much content and education as we can we can generate alongside so that it's not an intimidating journey. It really is easy. And what we try to do is position ourselves in a way where if you trust the market, the brand will make a lot of this easier for you as a consumer. And by virtue of the membership, we get to a really high level service.

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So there's there's low risk for someone going in.

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And so checking out the website here before we we hopped on, you know, you're looking at sixty bucks under sixty bucks for an annual membership, you know, similar to what you do with something like Costco. Seems like, you know, you get a free gift, you get this stuff seems like it's a no brainer. Plus you get access to all this stuff. Sell our listeners a little bit on on why why should they should become a member?

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Because it seems pretty pretty clear to me. Yeah.

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And I think it's similar to those touchtone businesses. Right. But it's overwhelming value. And so the reason Costco members are so passionate about their membership is you go into Costco, you'd save save hundreds of dollars over the course of membership. So you renew our dynamic is essentially the same. So, again, from a strict price point of view, our average member makes back their membership fee, just around two orders on the on the site today, the app.

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So you imagine the number of grocery trips you run over the course of a year. Our average for the members making back a very significant multiple of what they paid in to be a market member over the course of their their annual membership. And that's just the price, right? When you kind of added the convenience of not having to go to the grocery store for.

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One of the product categories that we we carry the convenience of not having to research ingredients of your own to go read the nutrition label and compare 30 different, all the letters you'll find on a store front door that day, even at a more curated grocery store, Whole Foods, for example. The fact that we've really done a lot of the heavy lifting so that the cognitive load on customers is as low as possible and they can trust us to make sure that we brought the highest standards in terms of which products we'll put on our on our shelf compared to any other retailer out there.

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And third, it's the positive social impact. So for every membership we we sell to a paying customer, we offer one for free as part of Reagan's program to a low income family or student teacher, some of the century in need where we recognize that there are folks that we want to as a platform for who we are. The sixty dollars is a significant financial hurdle. So they want to be able to petition to give those memberships away for free and ensure that whoever whatever, whatever your socio economic situation, you have the ability to access these healthy products beyond the free memberships we give away.

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We also have the ability for any customer to donate a portion or all of their savings at checkout, which we then proceed to turn around and provide grocery stipends, other support to the same communities through the through the gift program. And we know for a fact this resonates because donor check out rates are significant, multiple of what's what's been seen in traditional groceries. So we are we are attracting a consumer who's a who's a conscious consumer, who's thinking about making a utilitarian value, but also thinking, thinking more broadly.

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So the membership we offer, if you zoom out of it, is really boils down to this incredible utility, but also a community of shared values that you get to participate in as a market member and contribute to a broader and broader range of people having access to healthy products.

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I'm doing it. I'm signing up, convinced me I'm ready. OK, let's get under the hood a little bit. I want to know, I mean, this is all stuff I eat anyway, so I'm like, well, I want to get under the hood a little bit. From the technology perspective, it's a super simple platform, like effortlessly simple. I'm curious, like, what do you have going on to to create this type of digital experience as an e-commerce e-commerce platforms?

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As sort of the best analogy I can think of is that that sort of duck on the water where the consumer facing piece should be as simple as possible and require as little little work from the consumer as possible to achieve their tasks and their goals under the hood. There's always a tremendous amount of complexity with the duck sort of paddling, paddling furiously to keep it all going. To give you a little bit of a preview, our attack, we originally launched the business.

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It was a model, monolithic application. It was based on the Magento e-commerce platform, which for those folks listening along with Shopify, was one of the two leading platforms. The space back in back in twenty fourteen we launched. Since then, every aspect of that experience has been highly customized. We've moved the technology side of the house towards micro services architecture. On the platform side, we have dedicated client apps on Web, iOS and Android, a really heavy focus on asynchronous processing, on using machine learning to drive personalization of the shopping experience, all those things where a lot of work on the back end to create experiences that are seemingly very simple, the back end and the front end, and save the consumer a lot of time.

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From a team perspective, we organize into the software engineering. We call them pods or or squads, cross-functional groups that iterate very rapidly on different parts of the customer experience. Those pods are across platforms that we're able to roll out improvements across both the Web and mobile apps in a really rapid fashion in lock step. And part of that's because, as you'll sort of discover over the course of your journey and thrive, hopefully, you know, our consumers are to jump back and forth between platforms a lot, obviously covid and stay at home being what it is.

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We we see a lot more a lot more desktop usage now. But historically, grocery shopping and planning your groceries is something you are doing on the go. So our consumers are to bounce back and forth between mobile, desktop, web, native apps. We want to be there with our shoppers wherever, whenever they are, so that if they suddenly discover they ran out of toilet paper, out of mustard, they can quickly and easily add that into their basket of language.

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And technology wise, we're pretty language agnostic at this point. There's we started off with Magento as a shop. Now, obviously, the Clydeside apps are built in Swift Kotlin were reaction to the front end, the platform and services. Are written and everything from from Python to Java to to go langue, still be in there as well, or mostly cloud based. We have on prem infrastructure in place across our fulfillment network for to drive our hardware, automation, our fulfillment centers.

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But we're primarily a cloud cloud consumer. So that's a that's a very high level overview of the platform. Happy to be able to dive into the areas that that are particular interest.

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Yeah, I mean, so kind of obviously a newer company you started not too long ago. Was this just a pretty obvious decision for you to go mostly cloud?

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Yeah, I think if you sort of think back to this, what about twenty six? Twenty seven and eight of us first at the market. I mean, it was such a step function change in terms of the speed with which you could get a product and for our customers. Right. It took an entire job function in terms of managing managing server hardware and data centers and so on and abstracted it out. So it's definitely a no brainer for us.

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Now, there are certain areas where we need we need on premise hardware just from a technology perspective. So to give you give you some insight, we have hardware based automation. So this is conveyers sortation. There's this big building that you see when you look at a fullfillment warehouse that runs inside our fulfillment centers for that hardware to operate at the right speed.

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We have a piece of software called Warehouse Control System that has I think it's something in the range of four millisecond latency requirements, which unfortunately the cloud is is going to be a hard time supporting in a reliable way. So we have hardware inside the facilities, run a select amount of software where we have this. This is very specialized technical lead. Barring that, having everything the cloud makes total sense for us. We're a globally distributed technology organization, particularly now that the security team is is working from home, not having not having physical hardware that we need to be the access and the ability to manage as much of our charge of our destiny to do configuration as possible is as absolute, the way I think any any earlier growth stage business should be going and probably any enterprise as well.

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Switching gears to the employee side of the house, the employee experience, how are you building all of your team's infrastructure? How do you think about creating an awesome employee experience? How do you think about buying technology?

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Yes, I think yeah, there's definitely a lot there. And it's been it's been interesting over the past few months putting some of those decisions to the test. One of the first principles is standardization of systems. So I think we have about one hundred and eighty people in our corporate office or in corporate roles having them work on the smallest number of systems possible, both from a learning curve perspective and then also from from a consistency experience perspective. So to give you a point of view, for example, we've gone from, you know, when it was less managed from three or four or five project management systems that were sort of homegrown within individual departments of standardizing or on on one or two.

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We've gone from file shares being on Dropbox and Box and Google Drive and a few others to the standardization on user drive. And I think it's a business, a business scales at some point. It's really important to put some stakes in the ground so that everyone's on the same page, so that when it comes to onboarding documentation, it supports just the ongoing ability to manage, manage people's workflows. There's sort of less, less decision points and less inconsistency.

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The second piece is, you know, leveraging best of breed tools. One of the one of the sort of fortuitous examples for us is we on board we and soon and started to really sort of leading the use of drive meetings several months before bought network for covid. So we already had a little bit of a head start on the technology side, building a sort of a more ritualized working culture as opposed to having to learn in a very, very accelerated time frame whatever it needed to leave the office.

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And then finally, when it comes to build versus buy, I think the key thing is and this is applicable for both the internal side of the House and the consumer facing side of the house, this is one of the lessons I learned between companies, was your focus, your build resources on key points of differentiation and by everything else you can within within reasonable budget, obviously. So I got sort of the most the most impactful example that I can remember on that was we launched the market on a open e-commerce platform.

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We can buy it for free edition at the time. But yeah, my my first business there was enough specialisations. Error that I made the decision to build from scratch, and that was, you know, in hindsight maybe the right decision, maybe not, but it certainly made a huge difference in terms of the nine months to get our first product from sort of kind of paper to the full launch, a thrive market. We got there and I think it was six to eight weeks, including setting up a warehouse and all the other infrastructure that goes into business, being able to leverage everything out there and not reinventing the wheel, really being rigorous about use of resources to build only the pieces you really, really need, which are custom to your business, key points of differentiation, something that you really want to be defensible from an IT perspective or from a business perspective.

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Yeah, that's wild. I mean, the the speed to speed to market you can go now is just it really is. It puts those builder buy decisions, you know, really into perspective. Do you have like a like a buying committee or like how how do you go about like sourcing those things and especially for other parts of the business as well, like getting feedback from from the other business owners or business units. Yeah, we don't have it.

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We don't have a formal committee. We definitely have a budgeting process for I mean, it manages a centralized software budget for the most part. I mean, there's a few pieces of software where only one department will use it and then it kind of sits in their queue. And it's a it's a collaborative process between my team and in some cases the rest of the business and in some cases a single department that as a as a specialized need where I have a head of technology operations that reports to me his core accountability is managing all the all the enterprise apps.

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We're going to sit down and look at what the what the solutions are out there in the market. We'll obviously solicit a ton of feedback from the rest of the rest, the executive team, in terms of software that they've used in the past and been successful with. And we'll try and find a balance between, you know, obviously the best solution from a kind of pure feature set cost perspective and what the what the business will be comfortable adopting, where we'll see the RTI.

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Right. Because you can put this you can put a potentially higher quality, more esoteric piece of software in front of people. But if adoption is low, you're not going to get the value that you're looking for. So it's gives you balance. And then the contract negotiation processes and the the area that were invested in the most is really not the process of buying the software. It's a process bombarding the software. So, yeah, sure, it's pretty easy to work with a sales rep and get a deal done.

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That's not usually the hard part. It's making sure that we're being rigorous. Once we made that that purchase decision with good buy in from all the other key stakeholders on utilization, we as a as the tech org need to go above and beyond and try to provide a onboarding materials, education, documentation, ongoing support will usually kind of beta test internal software rollouts within the whole tech team or parts of the tech team, because folks are just a little a little bit more digitally native and willing to play around with with new tools.

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So we're really going investing as heavily as possible and making sure that we we ensure not just that we're picking the right tools or ensuring the organizational success on those tools. You know, it's not it's not simple. Once the done thing is, it requires a lot of a lot of practice and repetition and a little bit of playing bad cop and holding people accountable, but really ballsy being there in a supporting capacity to make sure that people can get on board and get their their questions and problems sorted out easily.

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You mentioned a little bit some of those those early learnings from having started previous companies being able to figure out like maybe we shouldn't build this thing or whatever it is. So I'm curious whether it's from your time at Microsoft or or earlier or your your startup time. Is there anything that really helped inform some of the decision making you have now as a CTO?

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Yeah, I spent a lot of time thinking about this. That is actually one of the one of the most fun parts of my job. And looking back at the past ten years, my career has been the constant ability to learn and encounter new problems and make making mistakes. Learn from old ones. I think the first set of learnings were really coming from large scale software development at Microsoft down to literally a blank slate today as co-founder by my first startup.

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And there I was really in a position to lean very heavily on a lot of the a lot of the best practices I learned in terms of software development. So I ultimately, I think big companies can be an awesome training ground for anyone who wants to go lead technology from the inception of a business. I think it really instills in do the right best practices when it comes to building scale, really high commitment to quality, rigorous hiring, repeatable process.

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Which are all things that sort of I think are undervalued at startups and in some cases rightfully so, but often, you know, being able to bring the right mix of structure and flexibility to those early years of a company having seen it done a real scale, but then have confronted the reality of having no resources and really timelines. Such a good balance. On the flip side, lots of there's lots of change as well. Right. Ultimately, you come down to a world where you have to start thinking about everything versus just thinking about your functions like great examples and hiring.

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So you must have interviewed well over well over one hundred candidates. Two hundred candidates in my time in Microsoft. And I never once thought about a hiring budget. I just I would hire the smartest technologies that we could place into the business. And when you're when you're doing that at a startup, you're confronted with a variety of other constraints. Right. Like, you know, what's the how many people are going to hire? What can I afford to pay them?

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Are they going to be a good cultural fit for a startup versus just being the smartest person in the room? Where am I going to source them from? It goes goes on and on. So definitely, definitely broaden my thinking as as I started to progress as a early stage CTO. The other big thing that was, was evolutionary. That didn't really come from kind of big company world Microsoft where have very, very long cycles. Is you really thinking in terms of tangible milestones for your business and being sort of use the term internally, still being really ruthless when it comes to prioritization and being willing to make the right compromises to hit those at those milestones.

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So, you know, when you're the very early stages of a business, it's great to have a North Star vision as to where you want to be three years from now, five years from now, it's probably 10 times more important to walk backwards in that vision and be able to chart a course that directs you getting there over the next week, month, quarter, because in the in the early days, like those are really the time frames when there's the business is still at existential risk at all times until you can prove out the next set of next set of hypotheses.

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So you can you can get out there and scale at a personal level. The sort of one of the biggest learnings was on this idea of intrinsic motivation so that I face this in a in a pretty tough way. The first few weeks, I'd say that my first startup was when you're in a big company, almost whatever role you're in, you're kind of on you're on the tracks, right? You're on the rails like you come in, you have a routine, you've got expectations, like your work days, well organized just by virtue of being in that environment, of being part of a bigger team.

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Your employee, number one, that a company that you really had to drive yourself and you got to figure out, you know, what's your what's your pace, what are going to focus on next, have a much higher sense of ownership and be much more organized than you would necessarily at a at a big enterprise. So those are all learnings coming from a big company to small company and then go thinking through the second piece of it, which is having been through to two startup companies.

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Now, a lot of a lot of interesting common themes have come up that that reflect like the first one of those is good business partners. You know, again, two companies in a row, like at the stage I joined, it was literally the co founding team and my PowerPoint deck that represented what we wanted to get done for the next five to seven years. So it's really a bet on people. And the first time around, I was very fortunate.

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I got the chance to work with someone that I had a prior history with. We'd known each other for almost ten years before we got into business together. So there's a very high level of trust there, both at a personal level and also at a professional level. You know, when I came to look for my my co-founders Thrive Market, I was I was definitely trying to be as strategic as possible and make sure that I was focusing on partnering up with folks who were experienced entrepreneurs and seeing seeing success in the past.

[00:35:05]

I knew what they were doing in the space. Ultimately, though, a lot of it just comes down to the human dynamic and your ability to feel like these are the right people to be with during good times, but also during bad times, like can you spend 16 hours a day with this group for weeks, months, years on end as you as you build out a business and go through this journey together. So I feel very, very fortunate there.

[00:35:30]

The second phase and again, this is this is not technology specific. It's been a good business model. So ultimately, my role as CTO or any any technologist out there can have an enormous influence on the on the success or failure of an enterprise. But I don't really believe you can take user experience or tech and kind of outwork a model that fundamentally doesn't work. Right. So you've got to think about the market size. You've got to think about the economics.

[00:35:58]

And one of the things that may drive market really attractive as I went down this this analysis was this idea of sort of stacking up what I call unfair competitive advantages from the early, very early stage. You know, for us, that boil down to. Already having some really amazing team members that are joining the company pretty large, already having the support of an entire ecosystem of health and wellness influencers that were investors in the in the early stages of the business and just standing by and ready that ready to promote us to their their audiences, having the right unit economics based on the membership model so that we could scale in a sustainable way.

[00:36:36]

So all these were considerations that were very much top of mind going into my second business that I think anyone would consider in this year. And you should definitely, definitely think very, very seriously about when it comes down to the tech side. I think it's a big success and it's definitely made a lot of mistakes in the area, but definitely build for both scale and sustainability. The thing that I think people underestimate is how long your code will be running if you're lucky enough that your business continues to scale.

[00:37:05]

You know, we've been we're still looking at parts of the product today, more than six years anywhere. There's stuff that was written prelaunch in twenty fourteen. That is that it could be standing up to seven, eight, nine figure revenue streams to the business. And I would say we're refactoring and removing a lot of that technical debt. But again, if I were too far to go back through this process again, I think we were more more rigorous at market than I was in my last business.

[00:37:30]

I would be even more rigorous making sure that building a solid foundation, even if it's even if it's a little bit more expensive up front in terms of use of resources, because I think the long term dividends of that investment and quality, I think will always pay off both in terms of just business performance, total cost of ownership of the software, and I think most importantly, setting the setting the right culture for for the team from day one. And that's sort of the that's the last speechwriter's is is a real investment in culture and values from from the very early days the business thrive.

[00:38:03]

We've been really fortunate because by virtue of being a mission driven company, there's already a very strong, unifying factor that draws people to this organization and keeps them aligned. But as leaders and this is sort of where they go, my role as co-founder versus my role as CTO or or knowledge or product or whatever, it's really making sure that we we codify our culture values incorporated into our day to day, get to a point and maintain that point where everyone in the company is incredibly aligned in terms of not just what our objectives and our mission are, but how how we choose to operate in our path to getting there, what what day to day decisions like what a day to day behaviors of like and having that feel really consistent from one team to the next and one one decision and situations the next.

[00:38:51]

That cohesiveness is really valuable as the company scales is really easy to get that right when you're just, yeah. Ten people sitting in a room and everyone's just by virtue of the small scale and clearly aligned, you start to scale the organization at the level of complexity grows, you start higher, faster. Having that that incredibly strong cultural foundation is what keeps the business marching a single beat year after year after year. So sort of start a rebellion there.

[00:39:19]

But there are a lot of thoughts on this for a variety of angles. Yeah, no, that was awesome.

[00:39:24]

And it's there's so many different things, you know, to take away from that. But I think the blending of, you know, going from a big company to a small company and then turning the small company into into a midsize company and hopefully bigger is is a crazy roller coaster for for anybody to go on. And the org is going to shift each step along the way. I forget who we were talking to, but so was talking one of the founders talking about how the moment when they didn't know every single employee's name.

[00:39:57]

Right. And they're like, this is crazy that I don't know every single person, but you know, but that that size happens.

[00:40:04]

I think it's I mean, the nice thing is one of those sort of of learning is that if you invested in hiring the right top talent early and as a leader, you have the ability to get to delegate and get the leverage, you know, as as founders and as a senior leaders in any business. I think having that having that good balance between how much time we spend on a business strategy, how much time we spend on execution and how to spend on people is really important.

[00:40:32]

And I've gone through different phases of this where sometimes I'm so in the weeds that that exact thing happens. Like, I kind of put my head up and I see I see someone that I recognize or multiple people that I recognize. And I do feel to some degree, I mean, a certain scale is unavoidable. But we definitely want to be in a position where we're building those human connections, that relational fiber and being really intentional about it. And some of that is making sure that you carve out the time in your day to do it.

[00:41:00]

A lot of it's also been driven through through organizational process. For example, we do what I call Friday lunches that drive. Now, we've been doing them for, I think, year, year and a half. And it's essentially all the leaders in in the org split up and are simply randomly assigned to very small groups of folks just to just to break bread and get to know each other and talk about stuff, not just what, what, what their sort of roles and functions and challenges and so on are, but really get to know each other at a personal level.

[00:41:31]

So I think it is a cultural standpoint, really important for companies to be intentional in setting up again process, for lack of a better word, to facilitate that human connection, because I think it may feel like it's an hour of everyone's day, but you kind of stack up the the improved context that people build over time, the ability to know someone's name and be willing to ask them a hard question that you may not have felt comfortable doing otherwise.

[00:41:58]

I think it does translate not immediately, but over the long term into it about happier, more engaged employees, but equally importantly, better business results. So, again, that's that's something that we've we really leaned into as leaders in the organization. And we're we're nowhere near perfect, but it's an area we're going to keep investing as much as possible.

[00:42:18]

So I'm curious about the future of of home shopping. As I mentioned, I literally checked out out of Thrive Market here. I have fifty dollars worth of snacks coming my way. Free shipping literally since we've been on this call. This isn't even a plug. I just I was just like, this is great. What we're sitting here chatting on the podcast. So it seems like delivery services like Thrive Market are are clearly going to be the new normal.

[00:42:47]

I think a lot of people experience that with the rise of covid and not being able to go out of their house all the time if they've never done a box of the month or something like that, maybe they tried it. So, you know, what is the future of home shopping? What is the blend of in person versus versus at home?

[00:43:03]

I think it's definitely a very interesting time, particularly in in our categories. I mean, you mentioned you mentioned covid. So one of the one of the interesting side effects that's occurred over the past few months is this incredibly rapid habit formation around the online grocery space and the online CPG space in general. So coming into the year, I think something like three to four at five percent of households had ever purchased a grocery product online. Fast forward three or four months and that number is now, I believe, and the 30 to 50 percent range.

[00:43:37]

And the interesting thing is that all the all the data and the customer feedback suggests that if retailers and brands are able to provide a high quality customer experience on that online channel, the customers are willing to form a new habit versus going back to only buying in brick and mortar in terms of going to where the answer that's obviously good news, good news for our business and symptomatic of a broader change come. This is reflected in a lot of the financial projections for how far that that industry is going to grow and goes down.

[00:44:09]

My grocery comes to what's actually going to change. How things are going involves the historical ecommerce foundation. Was this trinity of price, convenience and assortment. Right. So those are those are the pillars, utilitarian value. I don't think they're going away anytime soon. But I think what we've seen and what is at the crux of our strategy is the way consumers approach their relationship with their retailer, a change in the way they look. Look at those pillars and what their their expectations are.

[00:44:37]

So if you think about if you think of an assortment, for example, the Gen one ecommerce was really about having as much choice as possible and having access to every product under the under the sun. Now, consumers are faced with the opportunity of choice, go through that and are really looking for someone who can. You've got a lot more curated experiences out there that help cut through the noise and help be the active partners in helping consumers select the right products.

[00:45:07]

There's also this idea of being able to browse and search and find something versus a more elevated discovery experience where consumers want the brands that are interacting with the help help introduce the new products that they wouldn't have been aware of before. And this is really from his perspective, where being a hub, where innovative new brands can launch launch products and get a good exposure to a large, extremely high quality audience, but also leading into leading into content and education so that when you find something to deliver, we can help you, help you understand how to contextualize that of your life.

[00:45:45]

And we can actually find products that you haven't discovered based on your shopping behaviors, your declared lifestyle preferences that that you haven't actually had a chance to experience before. So having that having that retail relationship be more active and be more one of trust, convenience is sort of your you're very impressive multitasking. You have been able to build a build in order on the. Lie is is very much symptomatic in two seconds, and that's how people shop now. It's it's it's not that you sit down, you have a dedicated look at it like writing an essay or you're shopping on the go.

[00:46:23]

And for us, it means we have to be mobile first, like any retailer is facing us. Well over half our revenue now comes on, comes on the phone and particularly the grocery space. We want to be integrated people's natural habits. So when you think about technologies like voice of society in the future, being able to connect with our customers on the go, in their kitchens, wherever they may be the most natural way possible, so that, again, we lower that friction and just make it is as easy and convenient and low touch as possible to get get what they need to their hands.

[00:47:00]

The rapid adoption of subscription services is another phenomenon in this area, right. Where people find a a product that they like and they're able to form a habit around and they're much more comfortable today than they were five or 10 years ago, participating in a leadership program or subscription driven, recurring, recurring Shippen program. But then more more than ever, I think they also want experience that's personalized and tailored to that. Right. So whether you think about subscription or the kinds of products that we're using for product discovery, it's really important down the line for retailers to know their customers needs and not not speak to them.

[00:47:38]

And kind of a one size fits all tone deaf matter, but rather really honor the consumer's motivation to a one to one shopping journey for them. This is an area that we we've invested in really heavily, both from a user experience standpoint, a data science and data strategy standpoint. So, yeah, all our marketing communications, a lot of our customer experience now is reactive and takes into account both implicit and explicit signals that the consumer is giving us in terms of the product categories, the brands, the data and lifestyle values, the specific products and the the timelines with which they want those products.

[00:48:17]

And we use all those data inputs to create these experiences that, again, hopefully look and feel really simple and really personal, but ideally get the right message to the right consumer at the right time versus just washing everyone in a kind of a sea of relatively irrelevant information. And the final pieces is it's community. Right. So people I don't think you'll want to feel isolated and think of these conversations with with brands as kind of one directional brand or niche markets to consumer.

[00:48:46]

So I think membership really becomes a really becomes a shared identity where we want to be having conversations with our consumers about the products, about a lot of the the other topics that are highly relevant to their experiences. We're also seeing in the space that source of authority is really change from the traditional health advocacy towards much more of an influencer micro influencer based system where these are folks, again, who have direct bidirectional conversations, their consumers. And what we've seen a lot of success with is incorporating those influencers as thought leaders to help evangelize, evangelize businesses like ours.

[00:49:24]

You know, we're going to zoom out of all of it. I think the consumer is becoming more conscious, more selective in terms of who they want to interact with this brand. And that interaction is deepening. And A, what I feel is a really, really positive way. So and there are a lot of companies out there doing absolutely amazing things, both in the grocery space and others to to capitalize on this. And we certainly hope to be a lasting part of that, that ecosystem.

[00:49:50]

All right.

[00:49:51]

Let's get into our lightning round. These questions are fast and easy, just like the Salesforce Customer 360 platform, the number one cloud platform for digital transformation of every experience, go to Salesforce.com slash platform to learn more lightning round questions. Sasha, are you ready? Go for it. Number one, what hobby or habit have you picked up in third place?

[00:50:15]

I've started to cook a lot more, so that's definitely been one of the one of the positive externalities of being at home all the time is getting getting full use out of my kitchen. Ironically, by my fitness regime is also picked up by virtue of having not that many things to do other than stay at home and work out.

[00:50:33]

Do you have a favorite book or podcast or TV show that you've been bingeing?

[00:50:37]

I've been watching about season three of Peaky Blinders right now. I don't watch a whole lot of TV, but that one's really, really sucked. Me and my business partner also watched no TV, so when he recommended I thought this is something worth considering. So, so enjoyed a couple of seasons of that.

[00:50:54]

If you weren't a CTO, what do you think you'd be doing? That's a that's that's a really interesting one. By traveling. I think that that was one of the things outside of work that I enjoyed the most pretty shelter in place. So you're definitely looking looking forward to spending more time. Just discover. The world best advice for a first time CTO, one thing is believe in yourself as an entrepreneur. You're going to be confronted with an unending number of moments of self-doubt and wondering whether you're the right person to be doing this now or in the future.

[00:51:26]

The answer is usually yes. So let's have confidence yourself. The other advisors get mentorship. So have a community around you that you can lean on for support. Your role is to solve all the problems. It is not reasonable for you to have the knowledge intrinsically to solve all those problems, you know, build relationships with other folks. The technology community really leverage all those around you to ensure you're doing everything you can to support the business. If there's one thing that I know about the taxpayers is that people are collaborative.

[00:51:56]

People share information, people put things out there. No one no one really holds the stuff close to the vest. So there's just an incredible number of brilliant resources out there for you to reach out to to solve whatever it is that you're confronted with. Well, that's it.

[00:52:11]

That's all we got for today. Sasha, thanks so much for coming on. Any final thoughts? Anything to plug?

[00:52:17]

No, thank you for taking the time. This is this is a lot of fun, actually. I think this is the first one of these I've ever done. So there you go. I really enjoyed the experience. Yeah. Appreciate it. Take care. Awesome. Thanks. You do it.

[00:52:31]

Visionary's is created by the team at Mission Dog and brought to you by the Salesforce Customer 360 platform, the number one cloud platform for digital transformation of every experience, build connected experience, empower every employee and deliver continuous innovation with the customer at the center of everything you do. Learn more at Salesforce.com platform.